How many times have we heard someone speaking but not really listened to them deeply in an attempt to first understand what they are saying and the meaning behind their words? Too many times we are thinking about what to say next and in this process we are no longer listening to understand, but simply to respond to our own thoughts.

Here are some helpful ideas to help you think about listening differently. The first of these I call reflective listening.


When listening to dialogue, I try to hear the meaning underlying the spoken words. In reflective listening I am attempting to make sense of another’s story, to package the information as I have understood it, and to rephrase it to the speaker to ensure I have clearly understood what has been meant. One way of doing this is to use paraphrasing, which is the ability to infer what another person is saying and then to accurately reflect back this understanding to them.

“…I can never tell you what you said, but only what I heard. I will rephrase what you have said, and check it with you to make sure that what left your mind and heart arrived in my mind and heart intact and without distortion.” (John Powell, theologian) (Bolton. R, 1986, p. 51)

Here are a number of other ways you can use reflective listening to your best advantage:

  • Recognise the core of what the other is saying and respond selectively to their story
  • Respond accurately to the core emotion of what is being said. If you don’t accurately reflect the feeling being interpreted, the other person will let you know.
  • Another way of using reflective listening skills is to actively tune into the internal viewpoint of the other and to acknowledge their subjective reality.


In the late 70’s Carl Rogers’ work brought with it the process of client-centered therapy. Key to this philosophy was the role of empathy in its many forms, from empathic understanding to empathic listening.

“Empathic listening centers on the kind of attending, observing and listening – the kind of ‘being with’ – needed to develop an understanding of clients and their worlds.” (Egan, 2003, p. 76)

Empathic listening implies sharing a person’s subjective world with them and seeing it through their eyes. It means being able to listen to someone else’s stories and then to help them find resources to effectively manage problem situations and opportunities.

Empathy through active listening is a process of truly understanding and reflecting this understanding back to the person with whom you are communicating. It involves a deep understanding of their reality devoid of judgement or stereotypes and a true desire to quiet our own internal dialogue, long enough to enter another’s world view

There are so many other examples on how to enhance your listening skills - too many to mention here. Instead, why not join us at VETTA Communication and book a training on interpersonal skills. Listening skills is only one of the many tools we will share with you.

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